Syria crisis endangering development across Arab world, UN report finds

Thousands of Syrians stream across the border into Iraq in search of shelter. Photo: UNHCR/G. Gubaeva (file)

23 September 2013 – Recent turmoil in the Arab world imperils progress towards achieving the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the region, stated a United Nations report released today.

The report, launched by the UN Development Group (UNDG) along with the League of Arab States and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), comes as Secretary-General convened a special event at UN Headquarters on achieving the MDGs, which world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015.

It noted that while the Arab region has made progress towards many of the Goals since 2010, progress has slowed since then and the major cause is the widespread impact of the ongoing conflict in Syria.

“The crisis in Syria is a crisis for development across the Arab region,” said Sima Bahous, Chair of the UNDG in the Arab States Region and Director of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Arab States.

“The impact goes far beyond even the tragic and terrible widespread death and destruction in that country: it is also slowing the region’s progress on development,” she stated in a news release.

In addition to claiming the lives of over 100,000 people, displacing millions and causing widespread damage and destruction, the crisis in Syria is also having a major impact on human development across the country, according to the report.

It pointed out that the crisis has pushed at least three million of Syria’s 22 million people into poverty, while the country’s extreme poverty rate has climbed at least back to 8 per cent after having been virtually zeroed by 2007.

School enrolment rates have plunged and access to health care has also significantly reduced, added the report, which comes in advance of a more detailed UNDP study to be released in October showing the impact of the Syrian crisis on development in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Also, the report stated that the overall climate of instability and insecurity in the Arab region is dragging on progress more broadly across the region.

Economic activity has been slowed in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen – countries which since 2011 have been pursuing complex political transitions. Over five million people across the Arab region have been pushed into unemployment since 2010.

“In the case of Yemen, this slowdown comes atop already high poverty rates and deep challenges across the entire spectrum of development,” the news release stated. Over 10 million people in the country, nearly half of the total population, may be food insecure, according to the report.

Instability also complicates an already dire degree of water scarcity, the report added. Yemen suffers from chronic shortages and may be the first Arab country to run out of water, possibly as early as 2015. As of June 2012, 12.7 million Yemenis lacked access to safe water or sanitation.

The report also showed that many Arab countries are “off the path” to reach many important MDGs. Overall, the region lags behind on key targets, particularly those related to nutrition, food security, access to water and sanitation, and child and maternal mortality.

Today’s report comes as world leaders gather in New York to discuss not only progress towards the MDGs but also a new global development agenda which will come after the Goals expire in 2015. The discussions will include options for reflecting the importance of peace and security in a new development framework.

“The experience of the Arab region makes the linkage clear,” said Ms. Bahous. “Where there is no peace, there is no development; where there is no development, there can be no peace.”


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